Video excerpts for each site were recorded in 2015

This morning we left Bilbao and headed to the Castle of Xavier (Javier) in Navarre. Dating back to the 10th century, the castle was the birthplace and childhood home of Saint Francis Xavier, who was a classmate and roommate of Ignatius of Loyola when they studied at the University of Paris. Taking advantage of the backdrop of Javier, Fr. Malone related the history of Ignatius and his experiences in studies at Paris, particularly the early formation of the 1st companions who would later become the Society of Jesus.

Francis Xavier, along with Peter Faber, another classmate and roommate, were among the first Jesuits. (They had the experience of living in a “triple” while in Paris!) St. Peter Faber was canonized by Pope Francis on Dec. 17, 2013.

Francis Xavier was born on April 7, 1506. Across the plaza from the Castle of Xavier there is a simple church with the baptismal font in which Francis Xavier was baptized. He was born to an aristocratic family of the Kingdom of Navarre, the youngest son of Juan de Jasso, privy counselor to King John III of Navarre, and Doña Maria de Azpilcueta y Aznárez, sole heiress of two noble Navarrese families. Francis lived with his family until 1525 when he went to study at the University of Paris. Francis was an excellent student (he was first in his class), was the university’s long-jump champion, and was clearly ambitious. As a nobleman, he had hopes of securing a high position in the church for himself.

As his roommate and friend in Paris, Ignatius spent four years trying to persuade Francis to make the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius is said to have posed the question, “What will it profit a man to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Francis was whole-hearted at whatever he did, and when he finally made the Spiritual Exercises, he gave himself completely to the following of Christ.

Francis was ordained a priest in Venice at the age of 31. Shortly after the Society of Jesus was officially approved by Pope Paul III in 1540, the King of Portugal asked the pope for two priests to go to the Indies. The pope turned to the Jesuits. Ignatius wanted to send another Jesuit, but when that man became ill, he turned to Xavier. From start to finish, Francis Xavier’s time as a missionary was only about 10 years. His hair had turned white. He was dead at the age of 47.

In those 10 years, he was able to receive letters from his Jesuit friends back in Europe only 5 times! He wore the signature from one of Ignatius’s letters, along with his vow formula and the signatures of his other distant Jesuit friends, in a packet around his neck. In the last letter he sent to Ignatius in 1552, shortly before his death on an island off the coast of China, he wrote:

Among many other holy words and consolations of your letter I read those last which said “completely yours, without my ever being able to forget you at any time, Ignatius.” Just as I read those words with tears, so I am writing these with tears thinking of the time past and of the great love which you always showed me and still show toward me…

Back in Rome, Ignatius, too, missed his dear, old friends and longed to see them again. He managed to see all of them except Xavier. His letter, asking Xavier to return, reached its destination two years after Xavier’s death. A century later, on the same day in 1622 (March 12), Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier were declared saints of the church.

Photo Gallery (click to scroll)

Reflection by pilgrim Mark Mongelluzzo

As a student of history, I know the importance of going directly to the original source, whether that be a document, a person with first hand knowledge, or the birthplace of an historical individual. It helps to see with our own eyes exactly what was written, said or where it all began.

I am on a pilgrimage with 26 others along the East coast of Spain from the Bilbao and the Basque region down to Montserrat and Barcelona, following in the footsteps of St. Ignatius and early members of the Society of Jesus,  Francis Xavier, S.J. and Peter Claver, S.J.. We began our journey in Azpeitia, the birthplace of Ignatius. Seeing the entryway to his home with the Loyola family crest above it, the stones he walked on, the hearth where his family gathered around, was powerful.

As we move along our journey, we are sharing a rich and enlightening experience. There is an are gap of nearly fifty years between our oldest and youngest members, and we come from all over the United States, from Los Angeles to Milwaukee, Chicago, Boston, New York and beyond. Yet despite generational, geographic and political diversity, we are united in our search for what or how God is calling us in this life. Whether we just got married weeks ago or have been widowed for years, whether we just became a parent a couple of years ago or buried a parent a few months ago—here we are, on a journey together. Each of us is finding something different, yet the same. We are are all asking: Where am I? Where does God want me to be? Where do I want to be?

The first day of retreat James Cappabianca (Xavier ‘05 and former colleague at Xavier) and I received word from New York that our colleague and friend, Renzo Ventrella, an alumnus of Xavier class of ‘92 and a dedicated art teacher in his twenty second year teaching on 16th Street, had died suddenly. He was only 43, several months younger than me. It was an awful shock. Tuesday morning Rev. Matt Malone, S.J., and Rev. Eric Sundrup, S.J., celebrated Mass in memory of Renzo in the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, built on the site where Xavier was born. Thousands of miles away from New York, unable to attend the wake or funeral, it was a fitting alternative to honor our friend and colleague, who had dedicated more than half his life to teaching young men in the Jesuit tradition, on the very site where the story of our school’s patron namesake began.

On a very personal level, this pilgrimage is a reminder that we each have the ability to make a profound difference, if we are fortunate enough, as Pedro Arrupé, S.J., encourages us, “to fall in love and stay in love.” Whether in founding an order that has over five centuries helped change the world or working in a Jesuit school for more than two decades influencing the lives of young men through artistic creativity, we can fall in love and serve. If we can find our way on whatever path we are called to travel on, then we will understand that in this life God’s work must truly be our own.

There are many more questions for me. Many more miles to travel. Much more to see with my own eyes. But I am happy to be searching for the answers. Happy to be on the journey with my fellow pilgrims. Happy to see God in all of it and happier still to remember a dear colleague along the way.

Pray: Can you allow Jesus to ask you: what are you looking for? Think back to the moments of awakening in your life: when you realized a deep desire, or that something was not quite right, or that you wanted some change. Can you talk with God about that?

“I came on this pilgrimage for gratitude, in thanksgiving to the saint, Ignatius, who changed my life. He taught me how to pray. He drew me closer to the embrace of God. And lately I have felt an interior freedom that was unexpected but real. For these gifts and many more, I bow before the saint who continues to inspire me. To the greater glory of God.” — Julia McGee (pilgrim)

 

Further Reading

James Martin, S.J., reflects on the deep friendship of Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier and Peter Favre:

The mode of friendship among the early Jesuits flowed from Ignatius’s “way of proceeding.” For want of a better word, they did not try to possess one another. In a sense, it was a form of poverty. Their friendship was not self-centered, but other-directed, seeking the good of the other. The clearest indication of this is the willingness of Ignatius to ask Francis to leave his side and become one of the church’s great missionaries. Keep reading here.

Peter Schineller, S.J., reflects on the smiling Christ crucifix in the castle’s chapel:

One relatively unknown way of imagining Jesus on the cross comes from a crucifix, probably from the 13th century, found in the chapel of the castle of St. Francis Xavier, in northeast Spain. His suffering is clear: Jesus is stripped, arms outstretched, head crowned with thorns; he is nailed to the wood. His face is unusual, however, not wracked with pain, but peaceful and serene. The sculpture is called “the smiling Christ.” Shocking! . Keep reading here.